In the News
All is not well. At the start of the year, the Belgian sports network Sporza released a documentary about Nina Derwael and her teammates as they trained for Tokyo in 2020, which made it seem like “all was well” in the world of elite gymnastics (despite numerous athletes coming forward about mental and physical abuse last summer). Céline Decoster, who worked as a caretaker in the elite training hall dorms, has a different story to tell, sharing with Het Nieuwsblad everything she overheard in the dorms, and it’s pretty nightmarish. You can read an English translation here.
3-to-1 odds. Even though just last week, the IOC’s Dick Pound was going off about the Olympics probably not happening, now he’s telling the press that the odds are about “3-to-1” that the Games will take place this summer. Dick also said last week that he thinks athletes should be a priority for vaccination, but IOC President Thomas Bach says that not only should athletes not be a priority, but also that vaccines aren’t even required for athletes, though he “encourages all participants” to be vaccinated. Glad to see everyone’s not even remotely on the same page.
1600+ Brits died today, but have fun. Despite COVID-19 raging in the UK right now, the British men’s team was like, this seems like the perfect time for a cute little boys’ trip, and flew to Dubai last week for an Olympic training camp at Fly High Fitness. Though British Gymnastics promised “safety first,” the decision was heavily criticized in the media as being non-essential during UK’s nationwide lockdown. “They could have all gone and bubbled up at Lilleshall if they really needed to train together,” said Nicole Pavier, a Team England gymnast-turned-nurse. “While traveling around the world, only one of them has to test positive to spread it.”
Everything changes. Russia announced the national teams for 2021 yesterday, and most notably, Daria Spiridonova and Elena Eremina are no longer on it, nor is Ksenia Klimenko. According to Valentina Rodionenko, these gymnasts simply aren’t at the national team level anymore, which Eremina addressed on Instagram as being related to her body just not being able to handle the intensity of the training (though she hopes to continue competing). Also notable? Aliya Mustafina and Maria Paseka are on the senior reserve team. Mustafina hasn’t attended any camps as a gymnast since 2019, but she has no plans to retire and is currently working as a junior team coach at Round Lake.
A legend leaves us. Over the weekend, Muriel Davis Grossfeld, a U.S. gymnastics legend, passed away at the age of 80. Grossfeld was one of the early stars in the sport for the U.S., making her Olympic debut at the age of 16 in 1956, where she helped the women’s team to ninth place while finishing 52nd all-around. She became the first U.S. woman to compete at three Olympic Games, also helping the team to ninth in 1960 and 1964, with her best individual finish 16th in floor qualifications in 1964, and she led the U.S. women to gold at the Pan American Games in 1963. She also won 18 national titles, including the all-around in 1957 and 1963, and later coached the U.S. Olympic team in 1968 and 1972, and was a judge at the 2000 Olympic Games.
Nile Wilson retires. 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, 2015 world championships silver medalist, and five-time Commonwealth Games champion Nile Wilson announced his retirement on Instagram, also posting a YouTube video where he further explains all of his gymnastics-related injuries as the main factor for his decision. After his successful Commonwealth Games appearance in 2018, Nile missed worlds due to a finger injury, and then early in 2019, he underwent surgery on his neck, causing him to miss the entire season, though he kept training in 2020 while also opening up about his mental health struggles.
The GOAT has spoken. Simone Biles got some press this week, telling the Houston Chronicle that she’s optimistic that the Tokyo Olympics will happen this summer, but in the meantime, she’s just trying to stay positive, training six hours a day and spending time with her boyfriend and family. She confirmed that her first competition back will be the Tokyo World Cup in May if everything goes to plan, and that she’s still “playing around” with a Yurchenko double back. The Olympic Channel also did a feature on the GOAT, where her mom commented that she’d love to see Simone continue to 2024 as a specialist, but Simone was like “my mom doesn’t know how my body feels,” adding that when she goes to Paris, she’ll “probably be there to watch.”
We love growth. We also got a little Morgan Hurd update, who told the Olympic Channel that 2020 was “unexpected,” and while she feels indifferent about the year, which obviously didn’t go the way she had hoped, she felt like she had the “opportunity to grow as a person and learn a lot of different things.” Morgan said she’s setting a lot of short-term goals for herself going into 2021. She’s still working on getting skills and endurance back, and plans on competing at the Winter Cup in February.
Live with no regrets. If you’re looking for something to keep your ears busy, Jamaica’s Tokyo Olympic qualifier Danusia Francis gave a great interview to the Empowerment & Courage podcast, where she speaks about the impact that being a college gymnast at UCLA had on her, how she found her way back to the gym after quitting in 2016, and what it was like to fight back to qualify for the Olympic Games after missing out twice before. You can also listen on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts.
MyKayla gets the all-clear. After testing positive for COVID-19 and then going to the hospital for a pneumonia diagnosis, MyKayla Skinner shared her experiences with COVID as well as an update about her condition on YouTube, telling fans that while she’s still struggling to breathe, she’s now cleared to return to gymnastics. She’ll only have about a month to get ready for the Winter Cup in February, which obviously isn’t ideal, and said that “the top four” at that meet are guaranteed to make the national team.
Baby #2! Shawn Johnson and husband Andrew East announced that a second Baby East is on the way in 2021! Shawn gave birth to daughter Drew in 2019, and she’s basically already the same size as Shawn, which makes me so happy. Congratulations to the East fam!
Laurie Hernandez is really, truly back. The Winter Cup news is slowly trickling in, and we learned this week that Laurie Hernandez has marked the occasion as her return to competition for the first time in nearly five years, since she last took to the floor as a beam silver medalist in Rio. She told Twitter that if she gets 3,000 retweets, she’ll scream “FOR THE HONOR OF GRAYSKULL!” into the camera, and I think I’m looking forward to that more than any actual gymnastics.
Beach Blast Invitational. Some U.S. elite men competed at the “Galveston Island Winter Beach Blast Invitational” this weekend, which is literally the name of a Toddlers & Tiaras pageant I’m pretty sure, and basically no one wore masks or followed any social distancing rules, because why would they? Yul Moldauer won the all-around with an 85.900, followed by Allan Bower with an 83.200 for silver and Akash Modi with an 82.550 for bronze, and other standouts included Taylor Burkhart on high bar, Isaiah Drake on vault, Donnell Whittenburg on rings, and the lights completely giving up in the middle of Grant Breckenridge’s rings. Even they knew this meet was a bad idea and tried to shut it down.
Biles Invitational. There have been several U.S. invitationals so far this season, including a couple acting as qualifiers for the Nastia Liukin Cup, but this weekend will mark the first national elite qualifier at the Biles International Invitational in Spring, Texas. The junior optional qualifier and the compulsory competition will be held Thursday, January 21, while the optional qualifier for seniors and Hopes gymnasts will take place on Friday. Notable gyms expected to send gymnasts include WOGA, Twin City Twisters, Buckeye, Metroplex, and Texas Dreams.
Canada’s gone virtual. In light of COVID-19, and since Canada is freaking huge, Gymnastics Canada has decided to go virtual for Elite Canada in February. Rick at Gymnastics Coaching has all all of the details on how this will work, with video submissions allowed between Feb 3-9, while judging will take place between Feb 12-14, but it’s important to note that many top gymnasts in Canada aren’t able to train due to lockdown restrictions in some provinces, which could limit attendance even in a virtual environment.
Cancellations and changes. We’ve made a few updates to our 2021 calendar over the past week. Most notably, the Stuttgart World Cup has been canceled, and though the German federation is still hoping to host in another city, with the current lockdown, that’s not looking super likely (though Germany did announce its Bundesliga schedule, with two WAG meets to be held in the spring). Jesolo is also canceled, according to USAG’s elite calendar, but we’ve added the Russian Championships (Mar 8-14) and the Russian Cup (Jun 6-13), and we’ve also noted the change to the Top 12 league schedule, which has cut down from multiple duels held over several months to just one large team meet in March.
The Rankings. Florida held onto the top ranking after the second week of competition, with just over a tenth lead ahead of Oklahoma, while the Big Ten came to play as Michigan and Minnesota started out the season with statement meets to land in the top five.
1. Florida 197.375
2. Oklahoma 197.238
3. Michigan 197.225
4. Minnesota 197.025
5. LSU 196.913
6. Utah 196.725
7. Denver 196.600
8. Arkansas 196.488
9. Iowa 196.450
10. Alabama 196.313
A total of 37 teams have competed so far this season. Big showdowns this weekend included Florida taking down Georgia by over a point at home, Oklahoma getting a win against Utah, LSU getting a second win over Arkansas, and Ona Loper putting up the second-best AA score of the season so far with a 39.625 when Minnesota took down Iowa. Most shocking was Oregon State debuting with a loss at home with just a 191.950 after an utter meltdown on bars.
UCLA back this week. Whether UCLA could compete this season given the COVID-19 situation in Los Angeles has been up in the air, but the Bruins now finally have a schedule complete with eight regular season meets (including four at home), and will debut this weekend, hosting Arizona State. The Los Angeles Times ran a feature about what the team has been through over the past year, and what they think this new season will look like.
Emma Spence’s NCAA plans. Canadian elite and Youth Olympic Games medalist Emma Spence shared her plans to attend Nebraska late in 2020, and recently spoke to her hometown Cambridge Times about her decision, including why she chose Nebraska and how she can’t wait to actually get to see the campus in person – which she hasn’t been able to do yet due to the pandemic.
Florida is woke. Though it wasn’t covered in the broadcast, we were so proud to see coach Owen Field celebrating some of the Florida gymnasts’ decisions to kneel during the national anthem before this past weekend’s meet. Who should you stan, you ask? Nya Reed, Alex Magee, Savannah Schoenherr, Chloi Clark, and Ellie Lazzari, who explained her decision on Instagram.
The cutest tribute. A Twitter user with a keen eye (and memory?! I don’t even remember what day it is right now, let alone choreography from a decade ago) noticed that recent Arkansas transfer Abby Johnston’s ending pose choreo mirrored that of head coach Jordyn Wieber’s own Olympic routine in what is possibly the most adorable tribute ever. Just gonna cry a teeny tiny bit.
Casimir Schmidt’s triple pike half. I live for the Dutch men doing everything they possibly can to get injured, but ugh, they do it so well. Casimir not only lands a triple front pike half-out (off of a trampoline), but he also does it beautifully, and ends it with a stick.
Minami Kazuki’s Rudi-in back-out, front double double, and front double double half-out. I had to watch this like one billion times and I still don’t think I really even know what’s happening, but anyway, here’s Kazuki doing a front 1.5-in, back tuck out, which is like, T&T level nonsense. His first flip is basically laid-out, and if you scroll to the next video, he does it piked, but again, also fully laid-out in the first flip. Magic. Other clips in this little video dump? A whip half to front double double, and a whip half to front double double half-out. No. Big. Deal.
Angelina Melnikova’s English. Okay, so it’s not a gymnastics skill, but I am just so impressed with how far Angelina has come in her English-speaking journey?! She sounds so natural and confident answering questions from fans on her Instagram stories. As someone who has been speaking German for 10 years, I still get physically sick at the prospect of having to say wie geht’s to another human, so this is talent.
Jordan Chiles’ Dos Santos Rudi-out. Yeah, you read that right. Jordan posted this throwback of her training an arabian double front with one and a half twists in the second flip on Instagram this weekend to prove once and for all that she is actually Wonder Woman. Considering how easy she made a Dos Santos half-out look, is it really so surprising that she can pull off a whole extra twist into the pit?
Article by Lauren Hopkins